April 13, 2010

Fast Food. Slow Reaction.


A few weeks ago, stock analysts popped Wendy's with the big question: "How do you know your new campaign won't suck as much as your last one?"


Whatever you thought of the guy with the red pigtails, he sure had trouble selling burgers. When the analysts start asking about your marketing strategy, it's got to hurt.

We all have opinions about creative work. I didn't care for the guy. He made Wendy's kind of unappetizing, if you ask me. Lots of advertising people thought he was cool. Whatever. Opinions are beside the point.

When Wendy's got the question about their new campaign, the honest answer would have been that they had no idea how good it would be. I'm pretty sure they're doing the best they can. I have no problem with that.


My only issue is it took them a full year to realize their critically-acclaimed, red-wig campaign had failed. My guess is that they were listening to all the ad critics who were wowed by the edginess of their bizarre commercials. (Again, just my opinion, but didn't these spots look like Burger King wannabes?) The point is they forgot they had to do more than impress their agency peers in Creativity.

I understand some advertising campaigns may need time to take hold. But this is fast food, not a considered purchase like a new car. If it doesn't move the sales needle within a month or so, that would be the time to start looking for a different solution.

You may disagree. Advertising Age does. In an editorial they said Wendy's was "too quick to spike branding."


Too quick!?? Really? Consumers were suddenly going to wake up and realize after a YEAR that the guy with the pigtails was brilliant and they needed to care about what he said? How many campaigns have lost ground for a whole year and then started working? Seriously. I can't think of one.

Remember the weird Quiznos sock puppet thing? Bad idea. It made people gag. The puppet didn't work. No surprise there. They took him off the air. They didn't wait a year. Good decision.

You can find long-running campaigns people hate, but that still move product. Mr. Whipple would be a classic example. Your local used-car guy screaming at the camera is possibly another.

And there are also campaigns people love that just don't work. Using the fast food category once again, the former spokes-dog for Taco Bell is a perfect example. That adorable little Chihuahua with the big eyes and funny accent got everyone to say, "Yo quiero Taco Bell." Unfortunately, he didn't drive any traffic to Taco Bell stores. He's now unemployed.


Likeability (or edginess) does not necessarily lead to sales. Sorry. I know that hurts.

Ad Age says, ". . . there has to be some balance between keeping Wall Street happy and building a brand that can thrive in the long term, that will be less susceptible to price wars, that is something consumers want to engage with."

I don't think this story is about "keeping Wall Street happy." Making a profit is the reason most businesses are in business. Building a brand is just one means to an end, not the goal. And this story isn't about making a long-term investment that happened to negatively impact a single quarter. This was advertising that just didn't work for a whole year. No one was "engaging with" the brand -- and Wendy's had little hope that consumers would change their minds.


It's not about opinions. If you "engaged with" the Wendy's guy, you have my sympathy. But that's not a good reason to continue to throw good money after bad.

To me, this is the kind of fuzzy thinking that makes clients so frustrated with their agencies. It's why clients keep saying, "Show me the ROI!"

They ask us to measure every possible variable in order to prove its worth. We can't just ignore the most important and easiest to measure data point -- sales.

There's nothing wrong with taking a risk. It's fine to put pigtails on a grown man. But don't fall in love with your own creation. You have to kill the ideas that fail in the marketplace, and kill them fast. Plenty of people -- possibly including stock analysts, certainly including clients -- will question your judgment if you don't.


Spyro Kourtis, president of Hacker Group, oversees his agency's strategic planning and relationships with a number of Fortune 500 clients including AAA, Expedia, Hilton Hotels, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, MSN, Oracle, VISA, Washington Mutual, WebEx and World Vision. He is publisher of High Performance Direct. He can be reached at skourtis@hackergroup.com.

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